IoT Series #1 – Where to start with Automation

For quite some time now I’ve been considering how best to document my adventures in IoT. As TechCube has slowly grown to develop more complex solutions for our clients, and my own home has become ever smarter, I have neglected to share much of the workings with the wider community and feel I can do better. TechCube makes heavy use of open source projects to make IoT magic happen and what we build using them should not be secret either so this series of blog posts aims to help others just starting out in the world of home automation too. We would obviously love to be chosen as the provider to install and maintain your automation systems, but we are also happy to encourage people to explore and build their own solutions.

The Problem with Standards…

Is there are just so many of them. IoT has had a very rough start thanks to a huge array of manufacturers dipping their toe in the water, releasing products that use their own proprietary protocols or do not work with products from other manufacturers that use the same protocol. There are at this point thousands of “connected” product brands and most of them use their own cloud services. A lot of them also use their own hubs if using low power mesh technology like Zigbee or Z-Wave.

A few manufacturers came along with more open platforms inviting you to link up products from different vendors. Amazon and Google tried to make their smart speakers into hubs, Samsung brought out SmartThings, If This Then That offered a cloud “linking” mechanism.

But none of this was truly open, none of it supported the vast majority of products on the market and none of it let you create truly bespoke automations to suit your home and family.

Introducing Home Assistant

8 years ago a small group of developers decided they can do better and began work on an open source platform they called “Home Assistant” to bring all the smart things together. From small beginnings this linux-based platform has grown to become the number one choice for custom smart home builds and is the platform we suggest to most of our clients today. Designed to keep your data local, Home Assistant works even when the internet goes out. Many core integrations connect directly to your devices, cutting out the need for manufacturers own clouds.

With Home Assistant, it doesn’t matter if you have a sensor made by Xiaomi and aHome Assistant Integrations page showing wide range of supported platforms light bulb made by IKEA, or a smart plug made by TP Link. You don’t need to use those vendors apps, just add the products to home assistant and use data from one to trigger actions on another. Control your Hue lights right next to your Shelly Dimmers, or even as part of the same light groups.

Need a Voice Assistant? No problem. Home Assistant works with Alexa and Google Home, or use Almond to roll your own. It can connect to Apple HomeKit and expose all your devices there, or act as a home bridge to connect HomeKit devices to, and therefore let you use Siri to control all your devices as well.

Where do you start?

You need something to run Home Assistant on. Either a Raspberry Pi, a custom platform by an integrator like TechCube, or a computer that is always on 24/7. Once you have decided on the hardware, head over to the Home Assistant Getting Started Guide and follow the instructions to set up your device. You should choose a device that has ethernet and plug it directly into your router for the best reliability. Once you’ve installed Home Assistant and booted it can take up to half an hour before you can access it from your web browser (at http://homeassistant.local:8123 if your home network supports autodiscovery) and Its as simple as that, once you have a Home Assistant hub set up on your network you just need to head over to the Integrations area of the settings and start adding your existing devices.

Next Steps

We will publish some further blog posts on more advanced features, as well as some interesting custom integration projects we have completed. The next one will be linked here when written. For now, you should check out the Home Assistant community for guides on how to integrate many products. Have a look at HACS too for hundreds of third party add ons and front-end themes.

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